Thursday, 19 January 2017

5 ways to start the school year well (yeah, I'm doing a listicle, what of it?)

So I survived a year by myself.  I didn't get a lot of study done, I had a rough time, etc., but here I am: in Gympie, with my husband, embarking on a new adventure of sorts.

I'm slack with studies, and I have slowly learned over time to put attitudes and processes in place at the beginning of things to make it last or work better.  Students should do the same.  I make a point of owning up to past behaviours that lead me to a better way of doing things, because if I'm going to learn from mistakes, I like giving others a chance to learn from mine also (though generally we all need to make our own mistakes to really get the hang of things).

You want to maintain your achievements from last year?
You want to leave your old attitude behind and start fresh?
You want to keep improving after finally making progress last year?
You want to get your parents/teachers to stop giving you a hard time?

You need to want to be the best you; not best student, not best child, the best you.

If it's important to you, you will find a way. If not, you'll find an excuse

Here's my advice, cobbled together from internet readings, personal experience, observations and whatever else is  bouncing around in my head.

1. Don't get distracted by the names on your timetable

I have a lot of tutees who have expressed wanting to change classes purely because of the teacher they've been assigned.  I am not denying that some teaching styles don't work for everyone, and that not clicking with a teacher can make a class much more difficult, but often it comes down to a matter of respect.

If you respect all of your teachers, there shouldn't be much of a problem.  If you can truly say that you are doing your best, and being as respectful as you can (following directions, not wasting time), and you still struggle, yeah, that's probably teaching style.  If your teacher seems to pick on you or give you a hard time or not help you enough, be sure you're not at least partially to blame.  Be honest with yourself, really properly honest, which brings me to the next point:

2. Self-Awareness is the greatest tool

I often refer to skills or processes as 'tools', especially in Maths.  There is a drawer in the toolbox for the algebra tools, and a draw for all the financial maths tools, there's a couple of tools for essay structure, there are a few for test preparation, and sometimes you use more than one drawer at a time.  The most valuable tool for learning (and also for just being a human being) is self-awareness.  This sometimes gets the fancy term 'metacognition', and the tutees I work with who succeed and/or improve, they exhibit this.

Why do you do the things you do?  Why are you acting up in that particular class?  What's similar about the questions you continue to get wrong?  What habit is playing out when writing paragraphs that don't read well?  What usually happens when I do this sort of question?  Have I actually changed or improved at something? What skills do you already have?  What are the specific skills you need?  Why do you feel the way you do about Maths, Science, Humanities?

There is always something under the surface, and very little of our actions and habits are random, the key is look beneath the surface and take responsibility for your actions and abilities, and take credit for what you achieve.

Ok, how about some solid, not wishy-washy advice...

3. Get sorted on a large scale

I never used to use a diary.  I'd set up my teacher ITC diary at the start of the school year, filling it with lots of good intentions, and then half way through first term it was relegated to the bottom of the pile of papers on my desk.  Not everyone is good at it, but now that I've developed my own style of diary keeping, I don't know how I ever lived without it.

Most schools have their own diary available (though one school, which many of my Bundaberg tutees attend, has gone full digital much to the chagrin of many of said tutees), and it will have a lot of useful things already in there: public holidays, term dates, pupil free days, school rules etc.  Writing down when your assessment is due, keeping track of homework, putting in events outside of school that might hinder or clash with school committments, it's wort it.

Need more writing space?: get a week to a view or day to a page.
Keep losing or destroying your diary?: use one on your laptop or other school approved device.
Don't like the look of the school one?: decorate it
Think diaries are lame and for nerds?: get over yourself, school is important and good for you.

Structure helps us, it gives us direction and keeps us grounded, it's a ladder to stand on, it's a frame display our needs, metaphor metaphor something something use a diary.  Heck, I'll help you set up one or design one for you if you need it.

4. Get sorted on a small scale

Once the school year starts, stuff will happen, and you'll get task sheets and homework and readings and library books and everything.  It's a lot, and it's harder than last year.  When it comes to assignments, test preparation, stuff and things, it all whirls together into a giant storm in your head and you may feel like it's too much to handle and too impossible to deal with.  So write it down.

Everything is big and scary while it's amorphous in your head, writing down the different steps of a task that seems too big or even not big, makes it smaller.  Each step is stuck to the page and out of your head, leaving more room in your head to actually do those tasks.  Multistage assignments suddenly seem a lot less scary when they're written down, and it puts you back in control.  Break down an assignment into smaller parts, organise it in a table, whatever works, but trust me, it has helped so many students and tutees I've worked with.

Take that you essay you, you're not so scary when you're broken down into 150 words chunks now are ya?

5. Make gradual change and progress

Many students will go through a thinking process like this:

"I was so rubbish last year, I kept getting in trouble.  I was sick and stuff, and that teacher didn't like me, but I can do better.  I'm going to do everything better, completely transform myself into the ultimate student.  I can do anything!"

Then fast forward about a month, nothing has changed, and they feel deflated, like they've failed, like they must just be a rubbish student and there's nothing they can do about it.

Don't change everything at once.  I have only just started to be aware of my penchant to make big claims and big plans and then not follow through.  It's easy to get excited; it's difficult to be consistent.

Start with one thing, do one thing differently or extra, and maintain that for a few weeks (there is a myth that it supposedly it takes 21 days to develop a habit, but in truth it's often a lot more, but you should probably wait at least that long before you start judging yourself too harshly).  Here are some habits you can try to incorporate into your life in order to be a better studenty you:
  1. Write something down in every single lesson, doesn't need to be a lot, but always write something down.
  2. Ask a question/ask for help a minimum number of times per week in a subject you know you struggle with.
  3. Put your hand up to answer a question or contribute to a discussion a minimum number of times per week in a subject you feel confident in (even if you don't actually get called on, putting your hand up to contribute is the harder part and worth the effort nonetheless)
  4. Schedule weekend time for doing school work, especially around assignment time.
  5. Sit in a different spot in a class to help be more focussed, or to at least avoid the distraction of friends that you are going to see at lunch time anyway.
  6. Try one new study/memorisation/work method (Pomodoro Timing, study snacks, flash cards, anything you think might work for you)
  7. Volunteer to be first to present a spoken task (it makes you seem keen, the teacher will use you as the benchmark and often think about your positively while marking you, and it means you can relax while everyone else does theirs instead of gradually psyching yourself out)

Outside of brain chemistry, legitimate disorders and physical ability, you are in charge of your success.  You need to take responsibility and you are the one who make you the best you.  You can ask for help, you can make mistakes, you can have bad days, you can have good luck, all of that, it's all completely fine, but note that all of those have 'you' in it.  You've got to be in it.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Potholes and Oases

It is a strange surprise to find that the last time I posted on this blog that probably no one reads, it was merely days before everything went very pear-shaped, and yet my current feelings mirror those of the last post very accurately.

So mid January, I got a visit from my old pal, Tourette's epsiode.  Imagine a grand mal seizure, only standing up and acting out a primal desire to self-destruct.  That's what I used to call an 'episode'.  I say 'used to', because it has been many years since the last one.  They occurred far too regularly in high school, and my record was 21 in one day (ranging in severity of course).  But since graduating from university, my Tourette Syndrome had waned and settled to the point where I had only occasional, minor tics.  Then one happened mid January, probably severity was 3/10.

So there are many contributing factors, not least of which was me coming to terms with my husband being away except for weekends, and my ongoing negative opinion that I'm not allowed to be too happy (and I was at a friend's house, drinking with friends, having quite an enjoyable time).  After that a few more occurred, pushing me further into the massive low mood the first had awoken.

January to March was scary drop into a place I haven't been mentally since adolescence: inability to function, depression, episodes, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.  Everyone was scared, and I put emotions on people who weren't particularly capable of dealing with them, and I was, at a minimum, a 'sub par' friend.  This time was scary, it felt unfamiliar, and it got the point where my voicing of my thought pattern of not being allowed to be happy because it implies my problems aren't real, flabbergasted even my therapist ("  That is really incorrect.  Just no.")

I would give more detail, but ultimately it's not necessary, especially as I know it's not healthy to dwell and catastrophise.  The more important detail is that right now, I am in the best condition I've been in since before I was even married.

I have an amazing and loving group of people around me, a supportive and loving husband, a God who loves me as a father, and a willingness to try anything.  By anything I mean drugs.  At first I felt flat, I lost all my appetite, I didn't desire anything.  A month later, I had a moment of sudden realisation that I was enjoying things, I was able to deal with things, I wasn't getting overwhelmed all the time, and my mind was quiet.  I asked out loud "Is this what normal feels like?"

I'm more domestic.  I'm more supportive.  I'm more reasonable.  It's all a revelation.

I know I won't ever have low moods again, I can still be lonely or down, it doesn't mean it's all over.

Things are just finally beginning.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A Change of Direction

As an academic, I have generally valued the institution of university over other form of tertiary education.  This is not to say that other forms of education aren't valuable or worthwhile, but the career I was interested in, teaching, required a university education, which in turn necessitated a certain standard of academic achievement in high school.  I got an OP of 5, which isn't too shabby, my uni results were ok, nothing to brag about, but I passed.  I was generally encouraged towards university, and I've generally valued intellectualism over the practical, and as a result I developed somewhat of tainted opinion of TAFE and the people who attend it (not for no reason, cos man, have you met those people).

So then I accepted that my mental health had degenerated to the point where my teaching suffered far too much, I quite teaching, and signed up to do a Diploma of Graphic Design.  Through North Coast TAFE.

So I'm a TAFE student now.  I've accepted it, I'm embracing it, I plan to try and finish my diploma in half the recommended time (30 months, so I'm aiming for 15 months or less).

My husband has just, today, merely hours ago, landed a job at a promising Christian school in Gympie, where they seem very excited to have him, and he's excited to have his own Primary classroom for the first time.  I am planning to continue tutoring for this year, so teaching is definitely still a part of my life, and probably will be for some time.

But yeah, life is going in a different direction.  I'm surprisingly positive about it, considering my new situation involves not seeing my husband for most of the week.


Happy new year!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Promises promises

Well, I haven't posted since the end of last year.  I'm not particularly convinced that there is anyone reading this blog, but that's not really the point.  Not much to tell: I crocheted a lot of things, my corgi died and then there's other stuff.  The short version is I haven't been well.  The slightly longer version is that I've been struggling with depression, anxiety and Tourette Syndrome to such a degree that I've had frequent absences from work. This has culminated in me negotiating to access my long service leave a little earlier than anticipated and I'll be taking all of Term 3 off.

The aim for this time is to recentre myself. I want to reconnect with my husband on a deeper level (hurr hurr, deep), do creative things for therapeutic and fun purposes, work with professionals to help manage my mental illness(es?) and hopefully go back a higher functioning individual.

Another thing I'd like to do is make some posts about general education ideas as well as some of the crafty things I do.

Anyway, that was boring, here's a photo of our family.  Excuse the quality, it was a bad photo, and this is after I tried to improve it digitally, which was very difficult.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

School's out for summer

So another year down.  I feel as though I might have improved and achieved something this year.  Before I go into reverse hibernation (whereby Australians close themselves in their homes with air-conditioning or other cooling methods in order to wait out the long, hot summer) I thought I might have a think about my achievements for this year and my goals for next year.

  • finished the school's yearbook on time and it was received with glowing reviews
  • was given compliments on the reporting comments I wrote for my 10 Maths class
  • marked all assessment in a timely fashion and gave notes for parents about results
  • took less than 5 days off this year (an extremely vast improvement on last year)
  • was helpful to colleagues when possible or at least didn't insult them when I was impatient and cranky

One of the biggest things this year was how much I was able to help my husband in his first year of teaching.  We were back to back staffroom buddies.  Unfortunately he was not given a contract for next year.  I was hoping to increase my subject load, but alas that was not meant to be either.  I wasn't able to get my 10 bridging class again either, or any English classes, next year I'll be teaching 11 and 12 Prevocational Maths, both of which are not difficult content wise (writing the units for these was my first jobs when I started at this school).  So my goals will not be content oriented, but classroom management and engagement oriented.

Goals for 2015:
  • learn to deal with rude students in a calm, constructive manner
  • incorporate group work at least once a week
  • engage with technologically based activities beyond the basic uploading of worksheets
  • plan for classes in advance, ideally a week at a time
  • adjust the Realm of Learning in order to motivate students further (this will include some reworking of the levels and achievements, gah)
  • engage with educational texts (e.g. Marzarno) and incorporate research into my lesson plans
  • write actual lesson plans
I'm trying very much to focus on the positives, so I'm not going to regale my non-readers with sad stories from the year.

This was a very text heavy post, so here's a blurry, Christmassy photo of Seb to balance it out.

Wait til you see the dachshund in this outfit

Friday, 25 July 2014 the classroom? - 10 Bridging Maths Trigonometry

This term my 10 Bridging Maths Class is doing Trigonometry and Measurement.  I usually find that Trig has good, real world contexts, and measurement is nice and visual, but I still knew, when I was sitting at home the other day trying to plan for my first lesson with them, that it was going to be a struggle.

They don't have quite this same attitude towards it for some reason.

Our first lesson was a double, so I did some actually educational reading and tried to find something to jazz things up.  I found this video (below) about how there's no such thing as being bad at maths, you're probably just lazy (assumedly putting aside legitimate learning disabilities or imbalances in the brain), and I found that to be quite effective, more than I'd expected (hint: I don't necessarily expect a lot, students from year 9 to 11 are pretty apathetic).

I managed to get quite a few students to admit that they don't really put the effort in that they could when I explained that I am there to help them bridge the gap between them doing their best, and what they want to achieve.  I pointed out that for some people they might still be working on that bridge next year, but no matter how big the gap they're trying to fill, it can only work if they're putting in their best effort and have the best attitude they can, or else it's like building a bridge on a bad foundation.

Many students then put their hand up when I asked if they wanted to start fresh, and try and put in their best effort this term.  It was rather touching.  I nearly cried.

Once I had them focussed, I introduced out topic with this not-as-lame-as-I-was-expecting video which the students found amusing and I felt the need to dance to.  I wish this school's math (it's in America, so it's math, not maths) department would make more, but I have the feeling it's not going to happen, even though their videos are actually really good!

See?  You were expecting it to be lame, and it was actually pretty good.

I'm actually planning to use this throughout the Trig part of the unit to help them remember the sides and formulae.

With my bridging class I always spend the first few lessons doing foundational processes that will be relevant later on.  The digital copy of the textbook has worksheets related to 'review' questions at the start of the chapter, these are great to get the students warmed up in the first week, and to remind them that homework is actually important and that I expect them to do it.  I did an activity with them to get them practising Pythagoras' Theorem.  I actually came across the idea on a teaching resource site...but they claimed it took them 5 hours to make and it was for actual Trig questions, not Pythagoras, so I made my own in under an hour.

A this point I hadn't thought to check the difference between 'practice' and 'practise', shh.

9 Pythagoras problem were stuck on the walls around the room, and after I showed them 2 quick examples, they had to wander around and solve them at their own pace.  The first three to finish got a chocolate, the next 2 got bonus points.  It went really well, and a student who has had maximised bad attitude all year tried her hardest and didn't give up when she made a mistake and even got bonus point.  It was rather touching.  I nearly cried.

Falling off, horses etc.

I think the end of semester 1 and the holidays derailed me quite a bit.  The night of my last day of work last term, I developed a sore throat, and the next day I was sick, and proceeded to sleep away the first week of the holidays.  Not a lot of crochet projects got worked on, not much marking got done until the last few days of the holidays, not a lot of driving practice happened, and I hardly did any Warhammer 40k painting.  The second week of the holidays was a lot more fruitful: I did my marking, I finally got my Ps (only 10 years overdue, with a failed test one month before), we put a deposit on a block of land and started talking to a builder.  It was a fairly big week.

Now that I'm back at school with renewed energy, fresh independence and brimming with ideas, I'm hoping to ride a wave of being constructive for a while, ultimately leading me to make progress on the collection of my evidence for registration and perhaps also progress in my career.  I've had a few days in a row of almost feeling like a real adult who accomplishes things by herself, lives up to expectations, and has skills or gifts that are of use to others.  I've spoken with my Head of Secondary about ideas for creating a unique position for me at the school, one where I could use my penchant for enjoying fiddly, administrative tasks for the greater good of my peers.  Whilst I understand it could be a bit of a pipe dream, his positive reaction to the idea gave me some hope that I could be on the right track, finally, when it comes to my place in world of education, and also my place in serving God.

I'll endeavour to continue updating this blog on a weekly basis (that was my original goal, and that went a little by the wayside), and will make up for the recent lack with an extra post about a lesson I did recently that went rather well.  Look at me talking like I think anyone actually reads this thing.  Oh well, such is audience appropriate voice, says the English teacher.